If Human Beings Were Whales

May 26, 2010 09:00 AM

 The headline is not a joke! It is in fact so uncharacteristically serious that there are barely printable words to express my horror. The headline from whence my speechlessness emanates is this: “‘Human rights’ urged for whales and dolphins.”

Recently a gathering of scientists, philosophers, conservationists, law professors and ethicists have come to the conclusion that the alleged intelligence level of certain mammals known as cetaceans, such as the whale and the dolphin, entitles them to basic human rights—rights that all preborn human beings are being denied as I write. In a public statement entitled “Whales Have A Right To Life, Liberty And Wellbeing,” the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society reports, “In collaboration with Paola Cavalieri of the Great Ape Project, this weekend WDCS hosted a ground-breaking meeting in Helsinki, Finland. Experts gathered to ask whether cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) should be considered as non-human persons.” The resulting document that came out of that meeting, entitled “Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins” states the following:

Based on the principle of the equal treatment of all persons;
Recognizing that scientific research gives us deeper insights into the complexities of cetacean minds, societies and cultures;
Noting that the progressive development of international law manifests a growing sense of entitlement by cetaceans;
We affirm that all cetaceans as persons have the right to life, liberty and wellbeing.
We believe that:

1.    Every individual cetacean has the right to life.
2.    No cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude; be subject to cruel treatment; or be removed from their natural environment.
3.    All cetaceans have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment.
4.    No cetacean is the property of any State, corporation, human group or individual.
5.    Cetaceans have the right to the protection of their natural environment.
6.    Cetaceans have the right not to be subject to the disruption of their cultures.
7.    The rights, freedoms and norms set forth in this Declaration should be protected under international and domestic law.
8.    Cetaceans are entitled to an international order in which these rights, freedoms and norms can be fully realized.
9.    No State, corporation, human group or individual should engage in any activity that undermines these rights, freedoms and norms.
10.  Nothing in this Declaration shall prevent a State from enacting stricter provisions for the protection of cetacean rights.

Contrast this declaration with the following brief excerpt from American Life League’s Declaration on Truth and Life

At a time when man's very existence and understanding of the Truth is threatened on every level by the vacuum of moral relativism, it is imperative that we move beyond the inconsistent definition of "pro-life," realizing that the Truth upon which we stand and base our principles exists outside the realm of human definition and interpretation. We must constantly serve, through all of our actions and our words, without exception, as a reflection of the Truth, and pursue only those remedies for evil and deprecation in our cultures that are consistent with this Truth in our collaborative quests for the true Good.

This requires unwavering defense of the true nature of the human person-at all times and in all circumstances.

This requires the recognition of humankind in its entirety, and the definition of each and every human being as equal and sacred according to the laws of God and man.

This requires an affirmation of life's most basic principle—a fearless response to and acknowledgment of the victimization by our government, our courts and our society, of those deemed non-persons.

There is a distinct difference between those who respect the human being as a human person because of his innate dignity and character and those who prefer to ignore the fundamental human rights of all individual human beings while concentrating on the misguided notion of human rights for various forms of animal, plant and sea life. 

Moral relativism could not be more evident, nor the contrast so great, as this clash between truth and falsehood. One document denies the hierarchy of order established by the Creator while the other is an all-encompassing statement devoted to the undeniable truth that every human being is a human person deserving of equal protection under the law and in society.

The first document and those who endorse its content place the emphasis on equality, if you will, among all mammals whether it is an individual person or a cetacean. The second recognizes the Biblical imperative that God gave to man in Genesis 1:28, “Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and all the living things that move on the earth.”

The news report of the Helsinki meeting includes a statement that pinpoints the cultural contradiction that exists today between those who know God and those who deny God:   

Thomas White, director of the Center for Ethics and Business at Loyola Marymount University in California who was at the Helsinki talks, said dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror, an ability rare in mammals that humans only acquire at about 18 months of age.

"Whaling is ethically unacceptable," he told Reuters. "They have a sense of self that we used to think that only human beings have."

Mr. White clearly has no problem in suggesting that, because of an alleged ability to see oneself in a mirror, the dolphin is in some respects superior to a child of 18 months. What White is not saying in his statement is that the human being possesses the faculties, if allowed to mature, to continue to study the dolphin while the dolphin would never have the capacity to study a human being. By his very nature, the human being is superior in every respect. But I digress. 

Mr. White, according to his biography on the college web site, is “the Conrad N. Hilton Chair of Business Ethics. He has been with Loyola Marymount since 1994 and is an expert in business ethics, gender issues, renaissance humanism. … White is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board, Wild Dolphin Project. He's also a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations' 2007/8 Year of the Dolphin program.”

Setting aside for obvious reasons the fact that Loyola Marymount University is a Catholic entity operated by the Jesuits, there is an apparent embrace within academia for subjects that lend themselves to a sort of secular humanism devoid of the fundamental principles upon which truth is established, including the natural law. This is perhaps why it is possible for intelligent people like White to make the leap from human beings to various types of mammals as persons deserving equality under the law. 

White’s misguided perspective, though shared by many in Helsinki, is not accepted among those who truly understand God’s plan for the universe He designed. For example, InsideCatholic.com editor Brian Saint-Paul commented in a recent interview:

[O]nce you start treating animals like humans, it becomes that much easier to treat humans like animals. We've seen it in the euthanasia movement; we've seen it in artificial insemination. Artificial insemination didn't arise out of nowhere. It came from veterinary medicine. Animal medicine is often the canary in the coal mine for human medicine. This isn't entirely negative, of course. Because veterinary medicine can be more progressive and because a number of techniques from animal medicine have been adopted by humans with great success and great benefit for all, we tend to look at those successes and think we can take just about anything we do to an animal, and do it to a human. So we get artificial insemination, we get euthanasia, we get sterilization, we get cloning and all the varying kinds of cell research.

And he concludes,

When these activists blur the distinction between animals and humans, the only thing the Church can do is react against that error. We acknowledge they have a noble aim in protecting animals, but they are going about it the wrong way. They don't see that they are creating a much bigger problem than the one they're trying to solve.
They are mortgaging the future of humanity for the future of animals.

Or, one could say they are denying that humanity has a future unless the animals among us are considered part of the human family. It is easier now than ever before to see the wider acceptance of the long-held convictions of the godfather of the animal rights movement, Peter Singer. Though not quite as callous as he in their public statements, Singer’s perspective is becoming increasingly popular among those who favor animals over human beings or at the very least consider them equals. 

Lest we forget, it was Peter Singer who opined, "Surely there will be some nonhuman animals whose lives, by any standards, are more valuable than the lives of some humans."

It was also Singer who wrote, "An animal experiment cannot be justifiable unless the experiment is so important that the use of a brain-damaged human would be justifiable."

Sadly, many are walking through the very rhetorical minefield that men like Singer pioneered, a minefield that could ultimately destroy the definition of the human person as we know it. Which begs the question: What if human beings were whales …?

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